IS­LAND HOP­PING

With more than 230 is­lands pep­per­ing its wa­ters, a respite from Hong Kong’s ur­ban jun­gle is never far away. Hop aboard a ferry to these five and dis­cover their ru­ral charms.

DestinAsian - - DEPARTMENTS - BY CHRISTO­PHER DEWOLF

Five ru­ral es­capes in Hong Kong.

SALT OF THE EARTH Set­tled nearly 400 years ago by Hakka mi­grants from cen­tral China, the bu­colic is­land and vil­lage of Yim Tin Tsai once thrived on salt pro­duc­tion. By the late 19th cen­tury, the salt trade had dried up, and vis­it­ing mis­sion­ar­ies con­verted its res­i­dents to Catholi­cism. Vil­lage chief Colin Chan has tire­lessly re­stored the chapel, school, a num­ber of houses, and the his­toric salt pans over the past 20 years, turn­ing the long-aban­doned set­tle­ment into a liv­ing mu­seum. Hourly fer­ries from Sai Kung serve the is­land ev­ery week­end, and walk­ing tours of­fer a glimpse into its un­usual his­tory and Chinese Catholic cul­ture.

SMALL WON­DER While vis­i­tors flock to its much larger neigh­bor Lan­tau, few make the jour­ney to Peng Chau, a serene, mod­estly sized is­land that was once known for its porce­lain work­shops and the Great China Match fac­tory—the largest in Hong Kong—that closed its doors in 1976. Stop by Kee Sum Café ( 852/2983-0554) for a bite of its fa­mous shrimp toast be­fore walk­ing to the top of Fin­ger Hill, where a sweep­ing view of Kowloon and Hong Kong Is­land awaits. Next, visit the is­land’s last re­main­ing porce­lain work­shop, Chiu Kee Porce­lain ( 852/9193-8044), which spe­cial­izes in hand-painted dish­ware. You could check out the tran­quil beach or ex­plore Lung Mo Tem­ple, dedicated to the Dragon Mother. Ei­ther way, end the day with a sun­downer at

Les Copains d’abord ( 852/9432-5070), a casual French wine bar with al­fresco seat­ing that hosts the oc­ca­sional game of pé­tanque.

ON THE ROCKS It takes nearly two hours to reach cres­cent-shaped Tung Ping Chau from the near­est ferry pier, but when you ar­rive at the se­cluded is­land, you’ll be treated to spec­tac­u­lar ge­o­log­i­cal for­ma­tions, pris­tine beaches, and some of Hong Kong’s best dive sites. For­merly home to 3,000 peo­ple, the is­land is largely un­in­hab­ited, though vil­lagers re­turn on the week­end to cater to vis­i­tors, many of whom camp overnight. You’ll find his­toric tem­ples and fresh seafood ga­lore, but it’s the coastal ter­rain that is the real at­trac­tion, es­pe­cially Drum Rocks—two eight-me­ter-high sea stacks at the is­land’s south­east­ern­most point.

SAFE AN­CHOR­AGE Far-flung Kat O lies in the north­east­ern New Ter­ri­to­ries, sep­a­rated from

main­land China by lit­tle more than a kilo­me­ter of sea. Its few hun­dred res­i­dents are spread be­tween four in­ter­con­nected fish­ing vil­lages along the western shore. On the main street, the re­cently re­stored Tin Hau tem­ple (dedicated to the Sea God­dess) dates from 1763, with in­tri­cate carv­ings and painted rafters that liven up the gray-brick in­te­rior. A few doors down,

Kat O Geo­her­itage Cen­ter ( geop­ark.gov.hk) is an­other must-visit for its ex­hibits de­tail­ing the is­land’s tra­di­tional cul­ture and ge­ol­ogy. Kat O is a ma­jor stop on the day­long Hakka cul­tural ex­cur­sion run by Coun­try­side Ad­ven­ture Tours ( ad­ven­ture­tours.hk), which also in­cludes a visit to the nearby main­land vil­lage of Lai Chi Wo.

TAKE A HIKE Hong Kong’s south­ern­most is­land, Po Toi, is a windswept, boul­der-stud­ded play­ground for walk­ers. Mo­tor­ized kaito fer­ries ply the one-hour route from Aberdeen four days a week, while a week­end ser­vice from Stan­ley’s Blake Pier gets you there in half the time. In the is­land’s south­west, a con­crete path­way fol­lows the coast be­fore loop­ing back to the jetty via the hilly in­te­rior, tak­ing in 3,000-year-old Bronze Age rock carv­ings and nat­u­ral out­crops re­sem­bling a tortoise, a snail, and a gi­ant hand en route. Once you’ve worked up an ap­petite, the deep-fried cala­mari and steamed scal­lops at beach­front Ming Kee Seafood Restau­rant ( 852/2849-7038) are highly rec­om­mended. Kaito ferry sched­ules for Po Toi and other out­ly­ing is­lands can be found on the Trans­port Depart­ment web­site ( td.gov.hk).

Above, from left: Yacht­ing off the windswept is­land of Po Toi; a painted glass win­dow on a vil­lage house at Yim Tin Tsai.

Above: En­joy­ing the view from a beach­front pavil­ion in the cove of Tung Wan, Peng Chau.

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